Mexico: The Murder of the Young

Timothy Fadek/Redux
Demonstrators marching from the teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa to the center of Chilpancingo, the capital of Guerrero state, Mexico, to attend a memorial mass for the forty-three abducted students, October 2014

Monday, October 27

Something terrible has happened, something big, and now, at 10 o’clock on a bright late-October morning here we are, members of a press gang piling into a car in Mexico City, on the search. We hustle our gear into the car and lock ourselves into the seatbelts eagerly. The story! We are bound for the state of Guerrero, southwest of Mexico City, and for the normal rural—teachers’ college—in the town of Ayotzinapa.

Everyone knows what happened; no one understands why. One month ago, on September 26, forty-three students were abducted in one of the poorest states in the Mexican republic, from one of its very poorest public vocational schools—an all-male teachers’ college. The nearby town of Iguala, where the crime took place, is not huge (pop. 130,000), and one would think that forty-three is a lot of people to hide, particularly if they are active young men.

This is by no means the largest or even necessarily the most horrifying mass killing to have taken place in Mexico in recent years, but it is the most known: we know the perpetrators (the local police and the local drug gangs), the victims (forty-three young men whose pictures are now everywhere), and their families, stoic hard workers—campesinos, many of them—who have refused to back down from their demand that their missing children be returned to them alive.1 But one month later the youths are still missing and there is a national outcry, and also marches, vandalism, protests, petitions, and shame, too, as the government sinks in disgrace, its inability to guarantee the safety of its citizens or prosecute its criminals more evident by the hour.

Iguala is less than three hours’ drive from Mexico City, halfway along the express highway to Acapulco. The disordered capital city thins out, grows flatter, as we speed toward its southern edge and at last we leave behind the garish street signs and cinderblock houses of the city margins. The highway opens. Banks of yellow flowers cover the fields like sunlight. The story!

Iguala is as flat, noisy, and colorless as every other provincial Mexican town that has made the transition from village to sprawl in the last fifty years. When the only way to get to Acapulco was the old two-lane road that passed through here, Iguala was prosperous. Now there are some maquilas—assembly factories—Coke and Pepsi bottling plants, nearby gold mines, and, it would seem, a lot of drug activity related to the poppy fields in the mountains further south. And ever since Arturo Beltrán Leyva, the drug baron who ruled all of Guerrero, was killed by Mexican navy troops in a prolonged shootout in Cuernavaca five…

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